Building a Philosophy that works
I remember feeling very intimidated about the concept of building a philosophy for coaching. Especially about the idea of putting it out there for all to see, and judge. But it turned out to be one of the most freeing exercises I have done as a coach, and it helps to hold me accountable to my actions. Still not convinced this philosophy-thing is so important? Here are some key reasons we all need one:
Parents want to know how you determined playing time at last night’s game
Players want to know why they were given a consequence
You have to make a difficult decision on whether to pull someone from a game
You have a difficult player at practice and need to know how to handle it
You’re not sure how to handle a player who has to miss a week for vacation
You’re down a goal, it’s the end of the game, and one of your players hasn’t gotten in yet and you aren’t sure if you should play them to be fair
Your athletic director or club admin wants an explanation for your coaching method
Your players are exposed to bad sportsmanship and they aren’t sure how to handle it.
You find yourself going in different directions than your staff, admins, parents or players
You feel you are spending a lot of time explaining yourself.
These are just a few scenarios that could be made much easier to handle if you have a written, accessible philosophy based on what you believe is right for your program.
There is no cookie cutter philosophy that works for all teams. Even two coaches with similar beliefs and coaching styles may have entirely different ones simply based on the level they coach, the age of the players, and numerous other factors. So how do we start building our own?
Start by thinking about the level of your program, and what your goals are for the season. For a young team of second graders in a new emerging area with brand new players:
Your goal may be to develop each player to their potential, allow as much playing time as possible, give them a fun learning environment as well as the chance to make new friends and exercise.
Think about the most important skills for your team. In the scenario above, you are likely teaching for the first time to these kids the fundamental skills of the game, as well as basic movement skills like changing direction, coordination, changing weight from one foot to the other, ducking, lunging, and drop stepping. Additionally, they would need a basic understanding of the rules of the game and the lines on the field, proper uniform, stretching, etc. Physical fitness goals could be speed, balance, and endurance.
Now that you have your goals laid out, the core of your philosophy is already taking shape. The part still missing is the emotional, behavioral, personal responsibility, and accountability factors. What are your expectations at practice, on the side line, after games, with teammates, parents, coaches, and officials? What is a measurable way to monitor these factors and are they controllable so that the players feel empowered to master them?
The philosophy is now set and just needs to be laid out in a simple way for parents and players to understand. For those brand new second graders, it could look something like this:
TEAM PHILOSOPHY: LEARN * LOVE * RESPECT* GROW
In this program, our priority is placed on development of fundamental lacrosse skills.
We will work on LEARNING: fundamental skills such as stick-work, offense, defense, body movements, basic rules and lines on the field, and physical fitness. To have the best opportunity for all players to learn, playing time will be spread equally during games for all healthy players who have attended practice the week of the game.
Our goal is to create an environment that fosters a LOVE of sport through fun and challenging drills, competitive opportunities as well as opportunities for individual success. We will include skills, drills, games, and play. We don’t use running as a consequence, we however do use players choice times as rewards.
This team will uphold and value RESPECT at all times. This is modeled through our behavior at practice by listening to each other and the coaches when they are speaking, by bringing our best ability every day, by speaking respectfully to each other and to coaches and focusing on words that encourage and uplift those around us.
A GROWTH mindset on this team will give each player the ability to improve any and all skills. Though a skill may be hard at first, with consistent effort, mastery is within reach for each player and the coaches are committed to assisting any player who truly wishes to learn.
Parents: This philosophy can help make for a great experience for our kids, but can be even better when we commit together. Please utilize respect, love of the game, a growth mindset, and learning during conversations with your child or other adults on and off the field this season. At the end of each game our kids will vote for the parent that gave them the most confidence through their positive cheering and the child of that parent will get to grab a prize from the goodie bag. Thanks for letting us work with your terrific kids!
You may, in fact, coach for a travel team, a high school team or something a little more competitive and this philosophy may be way off the mark of what you need to accomplish your goal. That’s ok! Choose the outline that helps get your team all on the same path, reaching for the same goals, and finding the most success without having to redefine or defend your methods all season. When your philosophy is clear, you will likely find that even those who don’t always agree with you will still support you because they understand the ultimate purpose in your decisions.
Here is my philosophy for my high school program. It’s a fluid concept that gets tweaked each year as I gain more experience with my team and it’s personnel, but the core principles I believe in do not change and that core is this:
My philosophy is based around a simple concept – girls who love to come to practice, who leave each day with new skills, who learn and feel what team really means, those girls will play their best and put forth the most effort; and those teams have fantastic seasons and grow in numbers by leaps and bounds.
I use the three L’s in coaching “Learn the game, Love the Game, Leave a legacy you will be proud of for the players coming up behind you through your choices, effort, and behavior” If you follow these principles you will find success.
I believe girls need their sports teams to lead them to greater success in the challenges that lie ahead in life, and that it should be something they look forward to at the end of each school day because it is both fun and challenging, sometimes uncomfortable but ultimately fulfilling. The focus is on personal and team excellence. I love to win, but I have found that winning takes care of itself in a program built on a firm structure of coach/parent/player trust and knowledge.
What is your philosophy? Has it proven to be helpful and have you shared it with everyone in your program?